Kiss your car, or kick it - it’s only human

August 6th, 2008 - 9:27 am ICT by IANS  

By Ernest Gill
Hamburg (Germany), Aug 6 (DPA) Next time you kiss your car when it starts on a cold day, or you curse your computer when it crashes - you may be relieved to know that it is only human nature to regard inanimate objects as sentient beings like yourself. Scientists in Germany say we are hard-wired to interact with other human beings to such a degree that our minds work better when we subconsciously think of objects in our environment as having human minds of their own.

To study how people perceive humanoid machines and attribute mental qualities to them, researchers observed the brain activity of a group of 20 subjects while they played a computer game against human-like machines - computer notebook, Lego-robot and humanoid robot - and finally, against another person.

The results showed that neural activity in two areas of the brain related to mental attribution increased in parallel to how closely the gaming partner resembled a person. The subjects also reported they enjoyed the game most when their opponent looked most like humans - and they thought those gaming partners were the most intelligent, too.

The study was led by Soeren Krach of Aachen University in Germany in cooperation with the Department of “Social Robotics” (Bielefeld University in Germany) and the Neuroimage Nord (Hamburg).

The results clearly demonstrated that neural activity in the related parts of the brain increased with the degree of “human-likeness” of interaction partners.

Further, in a debriefing questionnaire, participants stated having enjoyed the interactions most when their respective interaction partners displayed the most human features and accordingly evaluated their opponents as being more intelligent.

This study is the first to investigate the neuronal basics of direct human-robot interaction on a higher cognitive level such as mentalising.

The findings, reported in the journal Public Library of Science, quoted the researchers as saying they expect the results of the study to impact long-lasting psychological and philosophical debates regarding human-machine interactions and especially the question of what causes humans to be perceived as human.

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